VI, Kim Thuy

The perfect complement to the exquisitely wrought novels Ru and Mãn, Canada Reads winner Kim Thúy returns with Vi, exploring the lives, loves and struggles of Vietnamese refugees as they reinvent themselves in new lands.

The daughter of an enterprising mother and a wealthy, spoiled father who never had to grow up, Vi was the youngest of their four children and the only girl. They gave her a name that meant “precious, tiny one,” destined to be cosseted and protected, the family’s little treasure.

But the Vietnam War destroys life as they’ve known it. Vi, along with her mother and brothers, manages to escape–but her father stays behind, leaving a painful void as the rest of the family must make a new life for themselves in Canada.

While her family puts down roots, life has different plans for Vi. Taken under the wing of Hà, a worldly family friend, and her diplomat lover, Vi tests personal boundaries and crosses international ones, letting the winds of life buffet her. From Saigon to Montreal, from Suzhou to Boston to the fall of the Berlin Wall, she is witness to the immensity of geography, the intricate fabric of humanity, the complexity of love, the infinite possibilities before her. Ever the quiet observer, somehow Vi must find a way to finally take her place in the world.

Richard writes
Vi is a fast read, a short book with short chapters, almost all a page in length. The book should be a fast read as, as delightful as it is, it is no more than just an abbreviated memoir.

Kim Thuy diaries her recollections of family and friends, their escape from Vietnam, and their re-establishing themselves in various locales throughout the world, with their settlement in Quebec. The book is a smattering of her lasting memories, of family members, friends, work colleagues, customs and traditions and foods.

The book may have been an exercise in recall and recapturing of recollections, nothing more. 

Delightful colour
The most delightful and engaging aspect of the book is its descriptive connectivity to the history and culture, traditions and ethnicity of Vietnam. The author talks about birds, flowers, artistic colours and delicate textures relating to the foods and fashion of her homeland. The descriptions relating to Vietnam are beautiful and even somewhat emotionally touching. They add warmth and a welcoming atmosphere to the entire book. In this regard, the book is very enjoyable and engaging.

Memoir for close family and friends
Thuy is bold and daring in publishing this book for the general public. It is a narration that might be more appreciated and accepted by family and close friends rather than the public at large.

The descriptive recollections are empathetic and sensitive, undoubtedly likely to draw most readers into an appreciation of the traditions, ceremonies and celebrations of the Vietnamese culture. Thuy touches a variety of aspects of the Vietnamese culture, history, morality and philosophy.

The last word
If Thuy intended her book as a ‘taste of Vietnamese life,’ she has been very successful. If it was written as an exercise in writing by an accomplished writer, it meets its goal. However, if it was intended as an in-depth appreciation of Vietnamese culture and customs, it falls short of the mark.

Readers interested in the Vietnamese mentality will find the book to be a good read, very little more.

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